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edge staff writer


‘Deep Water’ runs shallow

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Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is especially fascinating because of the factors surrounding its making. Obviously, just about every film project comes with its share of drama – it’s the nature of the business – but occasionally, we get something where the extracurricular noise largely subsumes the work itself.

There is no better recent example of this phenomenon than “Deep Water,” the new erotic thriller currently streaming on Hulu. The film’s central pairing is Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, whose real-life relationship’s tumultuous conclusion may well have gotten its start on this set. Not to mention the fact that director Adrian Lyne – an absolute legend in the realm of erotic thrillers – made this his first movie in two decades. The buzz surrounding the movie was far more prominent than that for the movie itself.

And with good reason, as it turns out.

“Deep Water” is a bizarre work of hot nonsense, at times bordering on the incomprehensible. The narrative is scattered, the performances are strange and the whole thing is campy in a way that makes it difficult to determine whether said campiness was actually intentional.

It is also, to be fair, a pretty good time, albeit a weird one.

Affleck and de Armas star as Vic and Melinda Van Allen, a wealthy couple living in an affluent small town in Louisiana. Vic is something of a man of leisure, having retired after making a fortune designing a computer chip with significant drone applications. Theirs is an antagonistic relationship – it seems as though there is a bit of an arrangement, with Melinda given carte blanche regarding infidelity, so long as the family unit - the two have a daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins) – remains intact.

However, things get complicated when Vic starts to feel some resentment toward his wife’s brazen behavior as she engages with her dalliances at parties and the like, showing off her adulterous actions in front of not just Vic, but their friends and acquaintances as well. When Vic tells one of Melinda’s lovers – a guy named Joel (Brendan Miller) – that Vic was responsible for the disappearance of a previous lover, things start to grow even more complicated.

Melinda is furious at Vic’s interference, while Vic’s buddies Grant (Lil Rel Howery) and Jonas (Dash Mihok) express some concern for the whole situation. Meanwhile, neighbor Don (Tracy Letts) has decided that Vic was serious about what he said regarding the now-missing former lover and takes it upon himself to get involved.

And then, believe it or not, it gets even more convoluted.

The toxicity of Vic and Melinda’s relationship grows ever more twisted as other men enter the picture, with Vic’s reactions getting stronger as Melinda’s behaviors are increasingly unhinged. There’s poison in every aspect of their dynamic, even as the full range of their unpleasant and inexplicable codependency emerges over time. And as the consequences of these behaviors begin to emerge, we discover just how far Vic will go to preserve the life – flawed as it is – that he has built.

Oh, and there are snails.

I could get more granular with the plot details of “Deep Water,” but the truth is that they don’t really matter because the film doesn’t seem all that interested in making sense. There are logistical and logical leaps taking place that aren’t rooted in anything resembling reality. And yes, we don’t always expect realism from films, but at the very least, some internal consistency is generally appreciated – and there’s none of that here.

Lyne’s track record for this sort of movie is quite good – this is the person who made “Fatal Attraction,” after all. He made “9 1/2 Weeks” and “Indecent Proposal.” Dude knows his way around sexy thrillers. But I think it’s safe to say that he may have lost a little off his fastball on this one – the thrills aren’t that thrilling and the sexiness isn’t all that sexy.

The script – adapted by Sam Levinson and Zach Helm from the 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name – doesn’t do anyone any favors, eschewing sensible narrative choices in favor of scattershot leaps from moment to moment, with little rhyme or reason for anything that happens. Motivations are cloudy at best and nonexistent at worst, with characters doing and saying things in a swirling cloud of chaos.

And yet … it’s actually kind of fun. Not good, mind you, but fun. It’s the sort of movie that you’d expect to see on late-night Cinemax back in the ‘90s. Nonsensical, but gleefully so, with actors camping it up and cinematographers skating up to the edge of acceptability with sex scenes. Once you accept the senselessness of it all, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

All credit to Affleck and de Armas, who are clearly embracing the opportunity they’ve been given. One can argue about whether either should have actually agreed to do this movie, but it’s tough to dispute their respective all-in attitudes. Affleck as the standoffish cuckold who might be a psychopath, de Armas as the unapologetically lunatic sexpot – it’s a mess, but an engaging one. A fun game to play is trying to guess how the two felt about each other in real life while you watch each scene; we’ll never know the answer, but you’ll have a good time in the attempt.

The supporting cast – Letts, Howery, Mihok, Rachel Blanchard, Kristen Connolly, the steady parade of adulterous dudes – is overqualified for what they’re doing, but everyone seems to understand the assignment. Like, they know it’s nonsense, but they’re giving it all they’ve got. If nothing else, the ensemble seems to be having a good time.

“Deep Water” may eventually move out from beneath the shadow of the circumstances of its making, leaving us with a head-scratcher of an erotic thriller that is light on both the erotica and the thrills. Still, it’s such a bizarre film that you might well derive enjoyment from it, despite its myriad flaws.

“Deep Water” isn’t all that deep, but hey – splashing around in the shallow end can be fun too.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 21 March 2022 11:24


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